Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Financial Crisis, Part II

Well, I should have written Part I before yesterday. Yesterday was occupied by other news, a 777-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Today, the DJIA increased by 485 points. Volatility, anyone?

It is worth noting that the DJIA follows only 30 publicly-traded companies, and those are in the industrial sector, not the financial sector. Broader markets like the S&P 500, comprised of 500 stocks in various sectors of the economy, saw an 8% loss yesterday followed by a 5.3% gain today. Of the "$1.2 trillion" lost yesterday, we seem to have regained more than half, in a 24-hour period.

My real losses and gains for the past two days are easy to calculate: $0.00. Or in Yen, also 0. Same for Euros. In any currency you choose to measure, I lost precisely nothing because I traded precisely nothing. The DJIA is largely irrelevant to me because I don't actually own personally any of the DJIA stocks, and any losses are paper losses. I am, like many investors, a class that comprises 66% of US citizens, a buy-and-hold investor. I buy stocks in companies I like and believe they will appreciate in value. Same for my mutual funds.

Besides, I cashed out a lot in January.

The news item driving these wild gyrations is The Bailout, its failure to pass yesterday driving prices down and the promise of its passage later in the week driving prices up today.

If I knew exactly what the sentiments driving stock investors were, I would be writing this blog from my yacht. I am writing it from my office, I still have a day job, and plan to until I retire, so I don't write as one with supreme knowledge of market forces. To be honest, I'm guessing about as much as anyone. The press will tell you that the Bailout is the only thing driving markets, and that may be true, but there is also the fact that value investors love to see people dumping shares of companies for no good reason and driving the price down. One of the stocks I own, Diamond Offshore, is paying better dividends than a T-bill when you consider the price to which it fell yesterday. People bought today maybe out of expectation that their cookies were going to get hauled out of the fire, and maybe because the stocks they've been following hit buy points that met with their requirements.

The Bailout, as I understand it, is a program whereby the Treasury Department on behalf of the government will be granted an initial $250-350 billion dollars to be used to buy assets from banks and investment companies that are otherwise unsalable. Things like CDOs, and RMBS shares and the like. This sale will be conducted as a reverse auction: the companies will price their assets and the Treasury will buy assets it feels are "worth the investment". The assets will then be held by the Treasury and something done with them in the future. The banks who sell investments to the government will be required to accept restrictions on their activities, particularly in the realm of executive compensation, and will be subject to other no-doubt-onerous restrictions on future actions. There is even a "clawback" clause in the bill that will compensate the government for any truly stinky assets it overpays for.

If this initial process goes poorly, the Congress can veto the rest of the $700 billion next year to prevent us getting any further into a sinking process. While this will put $350 billion into the financial services sector within a few months, there are some other problems.

1. Nobody knows if this investment, even the whole $700 billion, will be enough. As quoted in Forbes regarding the $700 billion figure:

"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."

Well, I know that reassures me.

2. Financial companies are likely to dump their worst assets on the public at prices the market would not give them. Citigroup agreed to take on Wachoiva and its $312 billion in subprime mortgages only if the FDIC agreed to cover all but $42 billion of that debt, in return for $12 billion in Citibank preferred stock. At most, Citibank is out $54 billion and the government is on the hook for $260 billion. That's about 20 cents on the dollar for $312 billion in loans, assuming everything goes south. Why would anyone else ask for anything less? The intrusion of the government will only distort prices in unpredictable ways.

3. Mark-to-market accounting rules may spread the pain farther. "Mark-to-market" is an accounting rule adopted in November of 2007. Financial companies holding an asset (like CDO shares) have to value that asset at whatever the last transaction of that asset was. If one company reverse-auctions CDO shares to the government, they've just set the valuation for everyone holding those shares, no matter what the price is. The Treasury can overpay and inflate that value, or underpay and crush everyone else holding what may be a producing asset. There is no way to tell, one would hope companies would discard their worst assets that are near-zero in value in any event, but there is no certainty there. If the resultant underpricing makes other banks have to write down the value of their capital, then purchasing these assets may actually force companies to further limit their capital available to lend -- which is 180 degrees from the intended result.

4. Which sector is next at the public trough? This year it's financial services. Next year it may be homebuilding, or the auto industry (who already got $25 billion in loan guarantees), or some other area where the risk-reward ratio got badly out of whack.

The hazard of not doing a bailout is that the credit crisis will worsen and businesses will be unable to increase their investments. If you've just won a contract for your electrical business and need to finance $20,000 in raw materials to complete the job, you're out of luck. If you sell cars and your customers need finance, good luck with that. Even banks that normally lend to each other at 50 basis points (100 basis points equals 1%) over T-bill rates are now seeing short-term loans going out at 450 basis points over T-bill rates -- and that's to other banks, who are usually considered "preferred" customers.

Banks are getting so stingy with one another that the Federal Reserve has made $225 billion available in 84-day loans. Apparently, nobody else will make these loans. There is also another $330 billion available in loans to people making currency exchanges into dollars, which is probably some of the reason the dollar is increasing in value against the euro -- the Fed is paying people to denominate their money in dollars!

If there is a freeze in credit, the problems will extend much farther than to the Dow Jones Industrial 30, it will hit Main Street square in the face. Small businesses will find financing very difficult to find, and when they find it they will find it at much higher interest rates to reflect the risk that even small distributions of capital are to large financial institutions. Further restrictions on credit will likely make the mortgage default problem worse, and will further depress housing prices. There is no real 'soft landing'.

This is about as close to a nightmare as it gets.

But it's worse than that.

This article from Fortune/CNN Money should scare the daylights out of most of the people who read it, I know it scared me. The credit-default swap problem dwarfs the economy. I mean, the economy of the world. There are nowhere near enough assets to pay off the credit-default swaps that now exist, and apparently they're down $10 trillion from their peak last year. If you read no other article I've linked to, please read this one.

This is also the first example I have seen of government action making this worse. In 2000, according to the article, Phil Gramm authored legislation that passed with the support of Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, as well as Alan Greenspan, to forbid the government from regulating these contracts. In retrospect, this was a mistake. $250 billion in subprime loans is a big loss, no doubt. What makes this worse is that financial companies and hedge funds got into the business of writing contracts on the success or failure of deals they were not involved in. The article specifically lists John Paulson, a hedge fund investor, who pocketed $15 billion in CDS payouts when he took contracts against the failure of subprime loans. He didn't make these loans, he just bet other companies they'd fail -- and collected 15 billion dollars.

That's 3% of the money we're looking at spending to fix this mess, for one hedge fund. With that much money at stake, and with those kinds of side bets possible -- unregulated and unreported to stockholders -- you can imagine the reasons people would have to sabotage companies and even entire financial sectors of the country and the world. I am reasonably certain that billions of dollars have been "bet" through credit-default swaps on the failure of GM, Ford and Chrysler, probably more than the companies have in combined worth. If you're a GM or Ford or Chrysler employee, how does it make you feel to believe that wealthy people stand to gain even more wealth with the demise of your industry? What is it worth to them to see you fail?

Say what you will about Randolph & Mortimer Duke from Trading Places, at least all they bet was a dollar. With this kind of money to be made, the idea that what we have is Milton Friedman's free market is becoming laughable. At least the SEC banned short-selling in financials, but since CDS contracts are not limited to financial companies (or much of anything) there is no reason that short-sellers won't pick out another lagging bison from the herd and bring it down just because they can.

With all of this, I've yet to be convinced that The Bailout a) is necessary, b) will be effective, or c) addresses the elephant in the room that is credit-default swaps. The one thing the Bailout will do is to provide time to sort out the bad investments from the truly awful investments, as the Federal Government is able to wait to see which will be which, and might actually prosper from some of the deals. I still don't know if this justifies sinking so much taxpayer money into a potential hole that we don't even know the bottom of yet.

Something needs to be done. I would much prefer that the CRA be revoked, CDS contracts become regulated and CDS obligations be required to be reported on a company's website within 24 hours, "mark-to-market" rules be replaced for a period until the subprime issue has been sorted out, and the mortgage insurance program Eric Cantor and others proposed be tried before a direct cash injection from taxpayers becomes both law and precedent. Even if it costs an election, even if it costs a recession, there has to be something better than throwing money at a problem.

Enough money has been thrown for enough reasons. Let's try having a real fair market without social engineering distortions and without back-room side bets, let the weak institutions fail and the ones that showed more judgment and less greed prosper.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Financial Crisis, Part I

Hard to remember a bigger news story, and the stories about it tend to come in liberal and conservative flavors, and grow in the telling.

The liberal argument, as I understand it, is that this is a case of mass predatory lending and greed, with Wall Street sucking the life out of Main Street (and in particular, the poorer end of Main Street) for short-term gain. There is also talk of deregulation leading to this, though never any specifics about what deregulation was to blame. You'd think that after two weeks they could cite a bill or an Executive Order or some published relaxation of SEC or federal lending rules to justify this position, but I have yet to see a single citation.

The conservative position is pretty well laid-out in a video called "Burning Down the House: What Caused the Economic Crisis?", which was up on YouTube until Warner Brothers made a copyright claim against some of the music used in the video and YouTube took it down. That is fishy in and of itself (it's a pretty good bit of viral video), but I will summarize until I can find another copy of it.

In 1977, the Carter Administration and Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act, a law designed to keep banks from only lending to people in certain neighborhoods and with certain credit scores. This process is called "red-lining", and the implication was than banks were only giving loans to white people in good neighborhoods.

In 1995, the Clinton Administration updated the CRA with teeth. Federal bank examiners would look at a spreadsheet of loans given by a bank, and if sufficient geographic and racial diversity was not present the bank examiners would penalize the bank. That the creditworthiness of borrowers was taken into account was not a significant factor, in essence the feds put a gun to the head of banks and told them to loan money to people that were credit risks. The other place where teeth were added, and those are the teeth that are the real issue this year and last, is that the government provided that these credit-risk loans, called 'subprime loans' (heard that term recently) could be purchased from the banks and resold by the two Government Sponsored Entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

See, mortgages aren't just loans to you. Every loan to you is in effect a bond to someone else -- your loan is their purchase, the interest you pay is the interest they earn for their investment in your property. The collateral for the mortgage, and the bond is the value of your house. Something Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did to make more money available for mortgage lending was to buy loans from banks, package them up into millions of dollars worth of loans, and then resell them to investors. Once the loan is sold, your bank gets its capital back and then it can loan money to someone else to buy another home. The whole thing depends on two factors: one, that a home is worth its sale price, and two, that the person with the mortgage can make the payments of interest and capital. Losing either of those things would be bad.

The Wall Street Journal has a great Flash presentation on how these Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities became the current bane of Wall Street: the Collateralized Debt Obligation. I strongly advise you to look at these pages and step through the way that mortgages were turned into assets, which are now less asset-y than they were, and which is the source of the problem. Some of the smartest people in finance in the world designed the bundling of RMBS to reduce risk, and then the CDOs to gather tranches from multiple RMBSs to further reduce risk, and then covered themselves with credit-default swaps (another financial derivative that hammered AIG into near-insolvency) to reduce risk. Do you believe they adequately assessed the risk? Me neither.

OK, back to the Conservative Case. Barack Obama, fresh out of law school at Harvard, took a job at a law firm in Chicago. One of the cases he won as a lawyer was Buycks-Roberson vs. Citibank, a 1994 case representing black plaintiffs who sued Citibank for "redlining" and not loaning enough to black applicants, in violation of the CRA. There was not only civil litigation against banks for violating the CRA, there was political pressure on Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac to take more subprime loans.

The goal of the CRA, and of the Congressional protectors of Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, was noble. The goal was to increase home ownership among the poor, which I am completely in favor of assuming they can afford to buy and keep up their homes. By taking on and securitizing subprime loans, Fannie and Freddie were able to do this...until recently.

Fannie & Freddie had problems of their own in the 1990s, though. They had major accounting problems that were used to artificially inflate their stock price. They paid their executives tens of millions of dollars, just like Wall Street firms. They were badly undercapitalized, meaning they did not have cash on hand to back the loans they sold. Any normal company would have been bankrupt long before now, but as Government Sponsored Entities (GSEs) created for the purpose of making housing more affordable, they were able to pull off selling subprime mortgages with a wink and a nod at Uncle Sam, who they implied was good for it.

Fannie & Freddie did make a lot of money on fees by buying and reselling loans, and they spent that money on political action. The two people they spent the most on in the last 20 years were Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. These were not idle investements, multiple times during the Bush Administration more oversight of Fannie & Freddie were proposed and then shot down in Congress. This included a bill John McCain cosponsored in 2005, which did not make it out of the Banking Committee.

The member of Congress who was #3 in donations from Fannie & Freddie was Sen. Barack Obama. What makes this all the more incredible is that Dodd & Frank's totals were obtained over 20 years. Obama's was obtained in just four years in the Senate. One of the leading banks to participate in making and selling subprime loans was the late and unlamented Countrywide, who not only made subprime loans to people not creditworthy, they made sweetheart loans to members of Congress under what was called the Friends of Angelo program, named after now-disgraced Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo.

Just so we're clear, the guy in charge of oversight of the Senate Banking Commitee a) got the most money from Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, two of the companies he was overseeing, and b) got a great deal on a mortgage from one the companies that did the most business with Fannie and Freddie. And one candidate for President (Barack Obama) was #3 on the money list from Fannie & Freddie after less than one term in the Senate.

Earlier this summer, Fannie & Freddie were taken over by the federal government as insolvent.

The conservative case comes down to this: the free market was not free, it was used for social engineering purposes. The normal checks and balances on making loans to credit risks were overrun by regulation (not deregulation) and then exacerbated by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buying those loans and reselling them to others. The predatory lending was encouraged by the government, not prevented by it, over the space of 30 years.

My position is that the conservative case is close to reality, but not all of reality. Yes, the CRA contributed to hundreds of billions of dollars in bad loans being issued, but the fact of the matter is that many of the banks that failed have done so in part because rather than reselling their subprime loans, they kept them on the books. Why? Because subprime loans command greater interest due to greater risk. Why keep your 5% loans to creditworthy people and sell off the 8-9% loans? Hold on to some of those subprime loans and count on rising home values to make up the difference. This worked until the rising home prices stopped rising due to increased interest rates and oil prices bit into the family budgets. The banks that did this are already has-beens: Countrywide, Great Western, Indy Mac, Bear Stearns.

The banks that are suffering now are suffering in part because they have as assets things like CDO shares and RMBS pools that they have no idea how to value. If more and more mortgage-borrowers default, then the CDOs and RMBSs will decline in value. With home sales dropping and home prices falling, there isn't a really good way to value those things, so what liquid capital these financial institutions have they must hold onto to maintain capital limits.

Some of the now-extinct banks likely bought CDOs and RMBSs on margin -- they paid $10 million and borrowed $90 million to buy $100 million in CDO shares or RMBSs, and with those now declining in value and income the people who loaned the banks money now want their $90 million back. It doesn't take too many deals like that to destroy all of a financial institution's good capital.

It gets worse if the banks and trading houses were also participating in a credit-default swap with another institution. This is in essence an insurance policy for a CDO transaction or other transaction. Company A agrees to pay Company B if Company B's investment goes belly-up. The thinking up until recently was apparently that this was easy money as long as what was being purchased was residential mortgages, worst-case scenario in a market with rising home prices was that the home would be resold for more than the mortgage. When home prices fell and Company B's investment in CDOs went south, Company A was on the hook for the deal. This is how AIG ended up becoming a fiscal ward of the state. There is an estimated $45 trillion in credit-default swap obligations floating around right now. The US has a $13 trillion economy, if that tells you how big this derivative market got.

Yes, there was greed on Wall Street. There is always greed on Wall Street, and this time more than just the trading houses got in on it. The bond raters like Moody's and Standard & Poor's and Fitch vastly overrated the subprime mortgages. The mortgage companies found clients and got them together with banks to make deals that, in retrospect, look stupid. And there was definitely greed on Main Street -- buying houses for well more than 3x your annual income, the usual rule-of-thumb for mortgages. Shows on TV like "Flip this House", and there are still advertisements for programs to "Get rich in real estate!" People at every level were greedy, and now even us non-greedy people get to pay for it.

Ultimately, the whole system forgot the basic rule of economics: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, also known as TANSTAFFL. This law is as inviolate as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I don't need to listen to the description of a perpetual motion machine, because they don't work. Just because a financial guru with a PhD in mathematics can show formulas that prove that a free lunch can make more food by gathering free lunches and reselling the components of the free lunch to investors in sandwiches and apples and cookies does not mean there is, in actuality, a free lunch to be had.

America has lived beyond its means as a nation for years. And I believe that time is coming to an end. The shape of things to come will be interesting, at the least.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hurricane Ike Update

No injuries reported in the Longview area, but there are tens of thousands here without power including your humble correspondant. We lost power at about 4:30 p.m., and what makes it all the more annoying is that our neighbors 30 feet away have power. We are apparently on different transformers.

Lots of little limbs down, but we didn't lose any trees. The loss of power makes getting in and out of garage a bit of a booger, our doors are electrically operated. Just as an interesting exercise it's a little alarming to see how much of our stuff in the house is power-dependant, how our use of resources over past decade and the ways we normally fill our days disappear when the lights go out. Books still work by candlelight though, and my Amazon Kindle is still good for several days. I'm reading Amity Shlaes' retelling of the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man, the first part of which deals with rural electrification. Irony is, as I have always believed, an elemental force that has no electrical requirements.

Updates as power is available. This one is from my iPhone, which is a pretty handy tool.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

First Interview

Sarah Palin's first interview with Charlie Gibson came out tonight on World News Tonight.

Overall, not bad. Not as good as the speech, but she didn't hemm and haw much. She did steer the 'What is your background national security issues' question back to her background in energy, which is a pretty typical dodge to familiar ground. In her defense, many of her critics would tell you we've been fighting the Iraq War for oil, so there is some bearing on the issue.

She did duck the Russia question. Being able to see Russia from shore in Alaska is not a recitation of the issues you've dealt with as governor -- fishing rights disputes, etc. Hey, she's a governor. I'm pretty sure the governor of Virginia doesn't have much national security experience either.

The 'not widely travelled' meme was brought up, which is to my mind a bit of a hollow criticism. How many people grow up without significant means and yet manage to do a full tour of the Louvre? She did manage to add Canada and Mexico to the countries she's been to -- which may be easily dismissed were it not for the fact that Canada is our largest trading partner and Mexico is not far behind. I somehow doubt she got beyond Cozumel, but hey.

She is no Miss Teen South Carolina. She was wise to question Charlie Gibson about what aspect of the Bush Doctrine he meant, there have been several breaks with tradition in the Bush Administration, and virtually none of them have been labelled 'The Bush Doctrine' by GWB himself. My first thought when he mentioned that term was supporting democracy and opposing totalitarianism.

I don't believe Charlie Gibson can be fairly accused of pitching softballs. His questions were tough but fair. There was a series of questions at the end that discussed her views on God and the Iraq War, she referred back to Abraham Lincoln though I would honestly say that her reference is a bit strained. She did manage to not come across like a total religious kook on the issue, she gets rather impassioned about extending freedoms to people, which is admirable though she comes across as trying to sell something Gibson's not buying in that segment.

Apparently Gibson's quote of what she said left out a couple of words. She said, "Pray that our national leaders are sending our troops on a task that is from God." Abraham Lincoln's quote fits better into the context of "Pray that our national leaders..."

This interview will not endear her to those that dislike her already. They will call her 'George W. Bush with lipstick', and will interpret extending NATO membership to Ukraine and Georgia as warmongering even though that is clearly a cooperative agreement. She pronounced 'Saakashvili' properly, still having issues with 'nuk-yu-ler', but I'm not going to quibble about that one. Jimmy Carter was a nuclear engineer and pronounces it worse, if possible. I am glad she was unequivocal about the Russian aggression in Georgia, I see it that way as well.

She needs a little more work on these questions, but maybe the domestic issues will be better for her. I hope she can put a stake in the "she lied about the Bridge To Nowhere" issue. There was a lot of editing, which can either help or hurt. She could have looked worse or better depending on what they cut out.

I think there is going to be a big sigh of relief at the Obama HQ tonight, particularly from the VP section. She may not be the Terminator in heels.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

One Reason I Hope McCain-Palin Wins

My favorite story about Ronald Reagan was written by William Bennett as a letter to the late President after he announced his diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease:
Congressman Dana Rohrbacher remembers a moment when he was a young campaign staffer back in California. You were giving a whistle stop speech, and there was a small group of blind children in the crowd. Their teacher asked if you could greet them.

Sure, you agreed, but not with the photographers or reporters around. After the press had left, Rohrbacher saw you go to the children and shake their hands. Then you knelt so they could "see" you by touching your face.

"What politician can you think of who would not have given a million dollars to have the press get pictures of him in a scene like that?" marveled Rohrbacher, "But not Reagan."

I just love the idea of this big, tough conservative guy smiling as little hands put a face to his voice in their own way. I really love that he did it away from the cameras, not for credit but out of respect and decency.

That's the kind of person I want as my President. I could care less, honestly, if they can rattle off from memory the name of the Defense Minister for Uzbekistan. They have people for that. I care more about what kind of person they are.

Which is probably why these the stories of 'A' and Chloe and their families are something I find admirable.

Here's a quote from the story about 'A':

I can’t give you the conversation by word, but she said, “Awwww” and kind of melted when she saw A. She asked her name and age. Then she hugged her. She actually got watery eyes (ed. 3rd and 4th pictures below, you can kind of see that). Remember, even though she is Governor, VP candidate, she is still new to the world of DS. She said she was so glad we brought A to see her. She just kept smiling and looking at A. I told her we brought a gift for Trig and gave her the t-shirt. (ed. Cousin ordered a t-shirt for Trig that said “fearfully and wonderfully made.” I thought that was sweet.) I told her that I have such admiration for her because when A was Trig’s age, I was still crying …. Oh yeah, I just remembered - A blew kisses to both John McCain and to Sarah during our little visits.

You're not going to read about this in the New York Times or Washington Post, and I have no evidence that Barack Obama doesn't do this kind of thing as well. But let's face it, we're down to something like 1300 hours before the election, and while you can cynically call this 'masterful retail politics' the fact that some of that time is being devoted to meeting with, acknowledging and supporting families like this makes me proud of the folks on the GOP ticket.

I'm sure a campaign is a long and difficult thing for all involved. You need to fuel up, physically, mentally and spiritually, and be careful where you spend that fuel. It makes me happy to see where McCain and Palin fuel themselves up.

That's all.

At Least He's Honest

Glad you made that point entirely clear, Joe.

Someone get this man a script, please.

To paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen from 20 years ago, "I know passive-aggression, Senator Obama, and you're passive-aggressive." As commenter Tim Ryan sent to Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com:

"He's a skilled orator, and he brings it all back around to McCain and Palin. It is absolutely clear that he is tying Palin to the Pig and McCain to the Old Fish. He didn't construct this accidentally or innocently. Unless you think that he isn't skilled or smart, and we all know that he is. He tries to create some plausible deniability, but there are only two explanations - he is either a mean-spirited p***, or he's an idiot. And the latter simply isn't true."

This is that kind of scratch-your-eye-while-you-flip-someone-off snark that I guess is going to be the new Democratic meme, huh? Hey, I say, go for it. Make fart jokes about Vladimir Putin's last name, that's a great idea, too.

As long as the Democrats are going to go this route, I have some ideas:

1. Refer to McCain's policies as "that same old GOP rag."
2 Slip in the phrase, "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen."

'Cause, those are common phrases, too, you know. No double-meaning there. I really question the wisdom of trying this with Joe Biden, walking a careful line of deniability is not one of Joe's strong suits. He's bound to step over the line, and soon.

Although I've made a post about this, the McCain campaign needs to just let this little verbal turd on Obama's part sit and steam. Stepping in it will just make Palin look weak and in need of defense, and I think that when you have a quick and funny candidate like Sarah Palin and a zinger speechwriter like Matt Scully there is a way to jiu-jitsu this one back on Obama with gentle humor.

I do have to admit I would like to see her give a little speech segment like this:

"The fact that Obama took three days to get to the right answer that John McCain had on Georgia must have been a shock to the Obama campaign. With their foreign policy credibility receding, and questions regarding the Senator's poor coverage of the event that might lead to questioning the strength of Senator Obama's foreign policy experience, there was clearly a problem. His Vice-Presidential search operation grafted in Joe Biden to plug the holes in Obama's already thin resume. This was a clear attempt to cover over his deficiencies, but I think we all know what they should have done. They should have called John McCain.

I don't think they should do that. But it would be funny.

But not as funny as a Presidential candidate getting his speeches from a political cartoon:

Joe Biden's old habits seem to be rubbing off on you, Senator Obama.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Nice, Joe

Joe Biden at a rally in Missouri today.

He took a maybe-swipe at Sarah Palin's child, according to CBS News

“I hear all this talk about how the Republicans are going to work in dealing with parents who have both the joy, because there's joy to it as well, the joy and the difficulty of raising a child who has a developmental disability, who were born with a birth defect. Well guess what folks? If you care about it, why don't you support stem cell research?”

This ignores, of course, that Sen. McCain supports stem cell research that is not embryo-destructive, and implies that there might be a stem cell issue involved in "fixing" Trig Palin if his witch momma wasn't such a Luddite, but hey, that's politics right? Has nothing to do with science, because Trig Palin had three copies of chromosome 21 at conception but it makes good theater and I believe that trumps taste, fact and reason.

This is also a bit of a funny statement coming from a lifelong Catholic who recently stated that he believes that life begins at conception. I believe that would make embryonal stem cell harvest the loss of a life, Senator? Bah, details. He's a lawyer and I'm not, so...

Apparently stem cell research was part of the theme, because while Joe Biden was at this rally in Columbia, MO today he introduced local politicians including Missouri State Senator Chuck Graham:

Senator Biden might have remembered that State Senator Graham had been mentioned in a New York Times piece about stem cell research in Missouri, but apparently he didn't see the picture.

Now, Biden recovered pretty quickly and was as gracious as could be about the whole thing, but this is what happens when you hire Joey Donuts as your chief surrogate.

Slime Watch

Well, it's pretty cold in my office even if it's warm and rainy outside. If anyone else needs something to get their blood boiling, today is no exception for producing idiotic stories about Sarah Palin.

Salon.com has two mouth-breathers on deck today. First is Professor Juan Cole from the University of Michigan. Apparently he took time off from his day job as an apologist for extremist Islamism to pen this little ditty: What's the difference between Palin and a Muslim fundamentalist? Lipstick.

In this episode of Cretins With Keyboards, Dr. Cole lies about Gov. Palin's record, confuses her personal views with her actual record of governing, and manages to associate someone he doesn't like (Gov. Palin) with something he usually doesn't have a really big problem with (Hamas, Muslim fundamentalism). The stupidity of this piece is absolutely breathtaking, particularly his total disregard for the facts that have come to light in the last few days after the first, panicked "SHE'S A RABID PRO-LIFER!" stories of the last week.

Maybe the only thing more ridiculous than this article (or the next one) is that Salon.com considers it part of its "Premium" content and makes you watch a commercial about clean water before being allowed to view the article. If this is "Premium", then it does make one wonder about the regular content -- which brings us to our next bit of tripe.

The second article by Gary Kamiya is simply titled, The Dominatrix, with a now-required bad photoshop of Sarah Palin's head on a curvaceous body, holding a whip and leading a moose on a leash. Wow, that's about as clever as Caribou Barbie, Gary, those graphics guys are adding heft to your piece.

I would quote from it, but basically it's a recitation of a liberal's sexual issues superimposed on current events, and quite frankly if I want that, I can watch MSNBC.

A further failing is that it repeats the silly meme that the McCain campaign chose her solely to appeal to the women's vote that was kicked to the curb with the choice of Joey "Donuts" Biden as VP over Hillary Clinton. Sarah Palin has appeal to some women in the Hillary camp, this is undeniable -- but it's also undeniable that to the "womyn" who make up the progressive "Second Wave" feminists, she's kryptonite. I mean, her daughter got pregnant and she didn't make her have an abortion? Can you imagine?

No, Sarah Palin is the magic bullet for independent men, and it's not just the glasses or the up-do. Men like Sarah Palin because she's a spitfire, a political jock who nailed her shot at the buzzer as surely as Michael Jordan nailing the jumper at the end of Game 6 in the 1998 NBA Finals. Men like competitors, and this lady is a competitor. She projects authenticity, and men value authenticity. She may be really cute, but she comes across like one of the guys, the kind of woman you wouldn't mind being on your deer lease.

Finally today we have the scandal of expenses Sarah Palin claimed as governor, to the total of $60,451 for her and her family. Deeply buried in the story is the fact that her expenses and those of her family are a tiny fraction of the $463,000 former Governor Frank Murkowski spent in 2006, not including over $35,000 for Murkowski's wife's travel expenses. Palin also fired the chef in the governor's mansion as reported by Newsweek:

At the governor's mansion in Juneau, she got rid of the chef. The NEWSWEEK reporter asked her what working mother in her right mind would dismiss someone whose sole job was to cook for her family. She replied, "I don't want them thinking when I'm done being governor that it's normal to have a chef. It's OK for them to have macaroni and cheese."

Man, if that's not a Mom response, I don't know what is. I think it would be hard to hire a chef (in Alaska) for less than $16,951 in 312 days ($54.33 a day). Sounds like she's done what she said she would -- saved the state a bunch of money. This Page A1 story on the Washington Post's front page sounds rather like a Tempest in Crock-Pot, at least to me.

Read and decide for yourself, as always.

The best strategy for the Democrats and the Obama-leaners in the MSM is to probably just leave Sarah Palin alone. I realize they can't for a variety of reasons, some professional and some ideological, but the Obama campaign really doesn't need to keep attacking her. If they're so sure she's an Empty Skirt, then they should just let her implode on their own.

UPDATE: Does it strike anyone else as either desperate or schizophrenic that Salon.com, in two articles on the same day, mixes metaphors so badly on the "real" nature of Sarah Palin? She's a burqa-wearing fundamentalist on one hand, and a purveyor of politico-sexual tension on the other.

Can't the editors just pick a slur and stick with it? It seems like what passes for diversity from Salon.com is differing opinions on the nature of the badness that is Sarah Palin. You stay classy, Salon.com!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Senator Obama...Meet Col. John Boyd

This is absolutely hilarious:

This morning, Republicans tell me that a worker at Invesco Field in Denver saved thousands of unused flags from the Democratic National Convention that were headed for the garbage. Guerrilla campaigning. They will use these flags at their own event today in Colorado Springs with John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Before McCain speaks today, veterans will haul these garbage bags filled with flags out onto the stage — with dramatic effect, no doubt — and tell the story.

“What you see in the picture I sent you is less than half of total flags,” a Republican official emailed. “We estimate the total number to be around 12,000 small flags and one full size 3×5 flag.”

I’m not sure what the DNC was supposed to do with unused hand-flags, frankly. But the Republicans are obviously questioning someone’s patriotism here.

Good-ness, this is unbelievable. Talk about getting inside the OODA Loop, McCain & Palin are sending people home from their rally in Colorado Springs with discarded (or as Fox News Channel puts it on their Chiron graphics, "RESCUED FLAGS" distributed by veterans and Boy Scouts-) from Barack Obama's 'Me Festival' at Invesco Field.

You know, the DNC could have carried them to a Veterans' Cemetary, or donated to some local organization. But finding them in ? Heh, using that is genius.

Now the Obama campaign gets to spend the rest of the day responding to this while the McCain-Palin pranksters roll down the highway.

Edit to add: Let me guess, Senator Obama -- that was your staff's fault?

Too funny.

UPDATE @5:40 p.m.: "Cheap political stunt" according to the Obama campaign spokesman. Does seem ironic that the DNC can have a crack recycling squad but somehow forgets about the flags. Did they file a report regarding their stolen merchendise, I mean, even at $1 a piece that's $12,000 worth of flags someone "stole". I mean, "wrongfully took", sorry, wouldn't want to misquote.


Friday, September 05, 2008

The Question That Needs To Be Answered

What if Joe Biden dies, and Barack Obama has to become the Commander-in-Chief?

A Tale of Two Speeches

"It was the best of times, it was pretty good times."

I think that about covers the Dickensian response to the Palin and McCain speeches, in order.

Watching the wind-up to Sarah's speech, with Baptist minister Mike Huckabee and America's Mayor Rudy Giuliani doing the warm-up, I have to admit I was worried that the preliminary speakers might outshine Sarah Palin. I mean, both of those guys have given speeches many times before, in front of crowds that large or larger. Rudy was a keynote speaker at the RNC in 2004, both of them spent months on the campaign trail. There were more people at the RNC than Wasilla, Alaska has residents.

The pressure was on. The credibility of John McCain, his judgment, the fate of the campaign was on her. Around the nation, 40 million people were watching. What did Sarah Palin do, bloodied from press accounts that she's unready, she's a bad mom, she's a hick from Alaska? I think Robert Redford dramatized this best:

As another internet wag put it, "Deer in the headlights? More like a deer-in-the-crosshairs look."

Sharp suit. Flawless makeup. Brilliant smile. Cool as the other side of the pillow, she strode out onto the stage and lit the fuze on the biggest stick of dynamite under the predictions and assumptions of the "in-the-know" political crowd since a former B-movie actor and GE spokesperson took a rhetorical baseball bat to a former peanut farmer. She was warm when describing her family, ironic when describing the criticism of her service as mayor, scathing in denouncing the hypocrisy of "Bittergate" and funny with an ad-libbed line about hockey moms, pitbulls and lipstick, among other moments.

Despite teleprompter problems, she showed a rare gift with timing and pacing for her crowd. Thirty-six minutes later the speech was in the can. The house lights came up and the family came out, including the impossibly-cute Piper, who spit-styled her brother's hair to a nationwide, "Awwwwww...", and the gum-chewing future son-in-law. They played the theme from 'Rudy', but they should have been playing the theme from 'The Natural'.

Folks, this just became a ball-game.

She so far-exceeded the low expectations of her performance that Keith Olbermann, the living embodiment of the Peter Principle in broadcast journalism, was reduced to spluttering, "People who like this sort of thing will find this ... the sort of thing they like."

They like her, Keith. They really like her. She definitely slammed the door on the "Eagleton option" an idea floated by Democratic operatives based on some querulousness on the part of some GOP talking heads. About the only people associated with the Vice-President who are having mental problems right now are the ones discounting her. Even Joe Biden is trying to lower expectations for the forthcoming VP debate (set your Tivos, it's October 2 at 8pm):

“I will be unrelenting in my debate with governor, the governor of Alaska in terms of the positions she has taken,” Biden said. “But I will not do what she is able to do so well, and many others–not bad. I am not good at the one-line zingers that go at, you know, that’s not my deal. So if that is going to be the measure of how these debates go, then I’m not going to do very well.”

Let's just say we'll all be watching, Joe.

Twenty-four hours after Sarah Palin became 'Sarah' to a sizable percentage of the electorate, John McCain took the stage. The lead-in to his speech was not as good, frankly. Cindy McCain has never made a speech in front of so many people, the video introducing her was excellent, she's clearly an admirable person but she as clearly is uncomfortable speaking in front of such a large group. The video of McCain's life was about the three-hundredth mention of his POW experience, but there was one more yet to go from the man himself.

Of course, there were two Code Pink activists and a Ron Paul supporter who had to interrupt the proceedings, and McCain, who is not a teleprompter kind of speaker, was knocked slightly off by the crowd drowning out the protesters with chants of "USA! USA! USA!", that didn't help in the beginning. Both his speech and Senator Obama's were State of the Union-type addresses with relatively boring laundry lists of policies and things they wanted to do. And McCain is not nearly the orator that Senator Obama is, so it seemed to drag even more.

I do think the differences were apparent for anyone predisposed to see them. McCain was openly asking for bipartisanship, he promised Democrats and Independents in his cabinet. He took virtually no shots at Obama personally, even went out of his way to remind a partisan crowd that we're all Americans. I'm glad to see that my request for an apology regarding past Republican excesses made it into the speech, it had to be there. Maybe it will affect someone, maybe it won't.

The major distinguishing characteristic was his humility. I spent a few hours when I was in college with a guy named Charlie Plumb, who was also a Naval Aviator and also a Vietnam-era POW. Charlie is an inspiring guy, which is part of the reason he's a successful motivational speaker. While I can't imagine how hard it must have been to be an American POW in Vietnam named 'Charlie', from meeting him I have tremendous respect for the resiliency and mental toughness of Vietnam-era POWs, of the privations they went through, their brotherhood, and their love for our country.

When McCain finally told his own story, his reflections on his experience and how it changed him, I have to tell you I was near tears. It was the best part of the speech, I think it was the best part of any speech so far this year, because it was real and authentic:

Long ago, something unusual happened to me that taught me the most valuable lesson of my life. I was blessed by misfortune. I mean that sincerely. I was blessed because I served in the company of heroes, and I witnessed a thousand acts of courage, compassion and love.

On an October morning, in the Gulf of Tonkin, I prepared for my 23rd mission over North Vietnam. I hadn't any worry I wouldn't come back safe and sound. I thought I was tougher than anyone. I was pretty independent then, too. I liked to bend a few rules, and pick a few fights for the fun of it. But I did it for my own pleasure; my own pride. I didn't think there was a cause more important than me.

Then I found myself falling toward the middle of a small lake in the city of Hanoi, with two broken arms, a broken leg, and an angry crowd waiting to greet me. I was dumped in a dark cell, and left to die. I didn't feel so tough anymore. When they discovered my father was an admiral, they took me to a hospital. They couldn't set my bones properly, so they just slapped a cast on me. When I didn't get better, and was down to about a hundred pounds, they put me in a cell with two other Americans. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't even feed myself. They did it for me. I was beginning to learn the limits of my selfish independence. Those men saved my life.

I was in solitary confinement when my captors offered to release me. I knew why. If I went home, they would use it as propaganda to demoralize my fellow prisoners. Our Code said we could only go home in the order of our capture, and there were men who had been shot down before me. I thought about it, though. I wasn't in great shape, and I missed everything about America. But I turned it down.

A lot of prisoners had it worse than I did. I'd been mistreated before, but not as badly as others. I always liked to strut a little after I'd been roughed up to show the other guys I was tough enough to take it. But after I turned down their offer, they worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long time. And they broke me.

When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn't know how I could face my fellow prisoners. The good man in the cell next door, my friend, Bob Craner, saved me. Through taps on a wall he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for our country and for the men I had the honor to serve with. Because every day they fought for me.

I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's.

I'm not running for president because I think I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.

If Obama is the poetry of Langston Hughes, John McCain's speech is the simple declarative sentences of Hemingway, and no less emotional for their unadorned simplicity and humility.

And so the balloons came down and the fight is on. McCain likes that word, he used it often last night. The run-up was the launching of a national political career for Sarah Palin, called a "Hail Mary pass" by many in the media. As it turns out, Sarah Palin can catch the ball, even if her QB has a bum arm -- a pair of them, actually. Hail Mary passes sometimes work out.

This is going to be a long race and a close election. But it will be fun to watch.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palin, by comparison

Well, last Friday while I was buried under workup mammograms, John McCain chose Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, as his vice-presidential running mate. In one move he completely flummoxed not only the mainstream media, but the Democratic campaign as well. If you’ve read my blog in the last few days you would have at least heard her name before, though I do admit to underestimating the Senator from Arizona’s aversion to controversy.

Good thing for her that her first speech went off well. It’s a good thing because the MSM really only has that 15 minutes to judge her on, so far, and she did pretty well. She did not embarrass herself, and the crowd in Dayton responded to her quite positively. Her name is the biggest applause line at the RNC so far, and according to Rassmussen Reports in the last three days she has made the top two on the poll of ‘Politicians I would like to meet’. Barack Obama is number one on that list, which has to really tick off his media people given that she has accomplished in three days what it took him 18 months and Oprah Winfrey to achieve.

John McCain did not take the easy road, which would have been Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty. With Mitt, he would still have the “two more GOP white guys” to deal with, plus all the questions about whether America really wanted a Mormon in the White House. Tim Pawlenty would still largely have the “Who?” factor, and is also still a white guy in a race where diversity is important. I expect to see Mitt Romney in a cabinet position in a McCain administration, the way he ended his campaign for the GOP nomination was classy, and he’s clearly a bright guy – but he wasn’t the right guy for John McCain.

There is a lot of talk that John McCain really wanted to pick Joe Lieberman, and that the party pushed back rather forcefully on that. While it’s the candidate’s choice as to whom he wants to run with, it’s much easier to win (the point of running in a party, I’m lookin’ at you, Bob Barr) when people will go out and work for you. Joe Lieberman, as he proved last night at the RNC, is a stand-up guy who calls them like he sees them, but he doesn’t see everything the way the precinct workers for the RNC would see them and that would be a problem for the party.

And so McCain came to Sarah Palin, and with one announcement fired up the base of the party like no other VP pick has done so far. To be honest, there are enough internal reasons to pick her as VP that the criticism of her as a token or “affirmative action” pick pretty much ring hollow. A theme that I hope to hear from the podium at the RNC is that while in power, the Republicans forgot why they thundered into Congress in 1994. They got complacent, they got complicit, and they got beaten for those things. The war in Iraq was unpopular, but pork-barreling and scandalous behavior got way out of control. I don’t believe the 2006 loss was a referendum on the war, if it was Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reed would have been able to accomplish what they promised and cut off the fiscal authorization for combat operations. While they successfully set the tire of the Iraq war around the neck of George W. Bush and lit it on fire, they have never managed to stop funding the troops – something I believe their internal polling tells them is not why they won.

Sarah Palin was not part of that problem for the RNC, she was in a small but real way a part of the solution. She fought back against the cozy relationship between the state GOP party and the oil companies. The Alaska state GOP chair Randy Ruderich, whose name you may hear in the “they didn’t vet her enough” line of stories, isn’t going to tell you he paid a $12,000 fine for ethics violations. Palin gave up a cushy job on the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Committee to fight for ethical reform in that commission and then set her sights on the sitting Governor of Alaska, beating the governor who was an Alaskan senator for decades before becoming governor. She is not afraid to call her own party on ethical issues, and for that reason alone she’s a better choice than the DNC ticket. Barack Obama spent years in his state party apparatus without blowing a whistle on any of the shenanigans of his corrupt party bretheren.

Sarah Palin is also pro-gun, pro-hunting, and pro-life. This does not make her extreme for the RNC population whose invigoration is part of the reason she was selected. These positions do not change or challenge the positions of John McCain. They reflect the mainstream of thought in the GOP, and part of the reason that she’s instantly popular in GOP circles is that she reflects opinions on those issues that GOP voters have been longing to see someone represent, unashamedly and with a smile. Whether other people like it is less relevant than the reality that by choosing a happy, enthusiastic conservative, John McCain got the party in line behind him better than the ‘Me’ Festival that Barack Obama had at Invesco. How this plays to the independents, who will decide the election, is yet to be seen.

For women who view other womens’ positions on “womens’ issues” as invalid unless they are progressive positions, she does nothing. In fact, she probably infuriates them, which is one of the reasons you hear comments like “token” and “insulting” about her selection. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who is “qualified” on womens’ issues by her progressive opinions, Sarah Palin does not owe her position to a father or husband who gave her the platform to succeed. Yes, Hillary Clinton got 18 million votes, and Sarah Palin’s presence is designed to be tempting to some of those voters who really want to see a woman in one of the two highest elected positions in the United States – but that’s called “strategy” and “capitalizing on your opponents’ weakness”.

Her selection has also been called “cynical”, and it’s a cynical choice only if she’s not qualified. The line of attack on her qualifications includes not referring to her as “Governor”, her elected title, but as “ex-Mayor”, making frequent mention of her past position as president of the PTA in Wasilla, and generally ignoring the fact that no other candidate for President or Vice-President has ever held an elected executive position.

See, Senators talk about things, and vote on things. They aren’t responsible for seeing that they’re carried out, for taking the budget they negotiate and then accomplishing the things they’ve been tasked to do. Senators don’t delegate or get held responsible for what happens after the bills they sign are passed. Governors do. So do Presidents, and Vice-Presidents. She has more of that kind of experience than anyone in the election. You won’t hear Obama supporters acknowledge this at all – and their relative neophyte is running for the Big Chair, not #2.

I knew there was an investigation about the Commissioner of Public Safety firing, and the allegations that the governor’s office and her family members were trying to get the CPS, Walt Monegan, to fire Sarah’s ex-brother-in-law, an Alaska State Trooper named Mike Wooten. For one thing, her response has been, “Hold me accountable,” which is pretty bold if she’s done anything wrong personally.

For another, Wooten’s record sounds pretty awful. I take credible threats to myself or my family rather seriously, and the Palins have been pretty restrained, considering that they own a boat and, hey, King Crabs have to eat, too, you know? Her husband did express his concerns to an Alaska State Trooper representative – at the behest of the chief of the governor’s security detail if this report is true. As for the rest of the contacts…we’ll see. Senator Obama frequently makes note of the enthusiasm of his staff leading to error, it’s possible a similar thing happened with Governor Palin. In fact, when she found out that there were contacts between her staff and the AST, she brought forward the evidence herself – in a press conference. She says she’s interested in transparency, and then goes and does a transparent thing. Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to lawyer-up and attack others? She must be unqualified.

I hesitate to bring up the thing about her daughter Bristol. I will only say that, as a parent of three pre-teen kids, it’s pretty difficult for me to throw stones until I have dealt with my own headstrong 17 year-olds. Even then I imagine that getting kids through that age will engender sighs of relief rather than feelings of superiority. The criticisms of her as being “a bad mother” are so obviously sexist and desperate that they are laughable, apparently if you believe that a child is “punishment” and prefer to abort your problems, you’re a good mother. If your kids go off the reservation despite your best efforts, but ultimately take responsibility for their actions, your parenting skills are called into question. Not a world I recognize, anyway. Something else that is apparently infuriating is the much castigated “evangelicals” failing to live down to the expectations of the progressive left and rebel against the Palin choice. I am pleased to disappoint, as are many others.

If anything, this makes Sarah Palin – whose chief drawing card is that she is more like us – even more like one of us. She doesn’t live in a million-dollar compound. She probably shops at Wal-Mart. Her kids cause her grief from time to time. She is no ethereal, messiah-like figure, she’s a real mom who drives herself to work and happens to be a state governor. Rather than being a populist, someone who speaks for the people, she is a member of the populace. She speaks from personal experience, not campaign anecdote, about the challenges families face and the ways the government can address those problems. This should be the focus of her speech tonight.

At this point, she’s about 5 hours away from a complete make-or-break speech. She did great on Friday, but she has to absolutely nail her speech at the RNC tonight. Given her telegenic presence, if she can sell that she knows the difficulties of the current American experience along with the great joy of life in this country (something we heard very little about from Obama), she’ll be well on her way to helping John McCain get into the White House. The Democratic party is rarely about the joy, the secret of Ronald Reagan’s popularity is that he was enthusiastic about America and, without discounting the challenges, communicated on a harmonic that rang the bell of pride we all carry about the place we’re from.

The GOP spent the primary season debating who was most fit to pick up the mantle of Ronald Reagan. Wouldn’t it be an unexpected joy to find out the inheritor was a woman that can field-dress a moose?


Well, the last post was my 100th on this blog. That's an arbitrary milestone, here's hoping it will take me less than two years to get my next hundred.

I've added a couple of blogs to the list on the right. Watts Up With That? is a great blog if you're an Anthropogenic Global Warming skeptic, i.e., you think Al Gore is full of beans. There is a lot of good data there, and a number of good discussions. Anthony Watts has another site, SurfaceStations.org, dedicated to going around the country and documenting the local environment of all surface temperature monitoring stations. So far they have checked almost 50%, and of those, two-thirds have adjacent buildings or asphalt that skew the temperature reading between 2 and 5 degrees C. Considering that the increase in temperature is about half of that, it does make you wonder how much "Urban Heat Island" plays into warming weather.

William Briggs is a statistician that I don't know personally, but I really like his down-to-earth discussions of how statistics are used and misused. We're in an age where statistics are used to promulgate all kinds of things, and knowing how things are skewed to prove points (like AGW, above, which is probably why Dr. Briggs is on Anthony Watts' bloglist) is an important thing. I comment there from time to time.

The political season is heating up, and likely so is my keyboard. I have a bunch of kit reviews I'd like to get to, and will as time permits. Having a hurricane is great for scaring away patients, business has been slow these last couple of days. The RNC last night went pretty well, though it does seem a little subdued compared to the DNC. It will be interesting to see how Sarah Palin does tonight, and whether or not if she gives a great speech it will be seen as such by the media. They seem to be desperately trying to write her off, she could give a speech like Henry the Fifth's at Aigncourt and it probably wouldn't be well-received. We shall see.